By JOEL COLEMAN
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Dan Mullen has coached some of the biggest names in college football history. The Mississippi State head coach was once a tutor for Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. Mullen helped Utah’s Alex Smith become the top pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Cam Newton, Chris Leak and others have all spent time under Mullen’s watchful eye.
Through all the star power and the 64 individuals Mullen has already helped put into the NFL, Mississippi State’s seventh-year leader says quarterback Dak Prescott has surpassed them all.
“I’d say he might be the best player I’ve ever coached,” Mullen said of Prescott on Saturday after MSU’s thrilling 51-50 win at Arkansas. “If you look at my coaching resume, that’s pretty impressive.”
Saturday’s shootout was a 60-minute synopsis of Prescott’s career. The illustrious MSU signal caller that now holds 38 school records set more benchmarks and overcame adversity after throwing an interception and fumbling away the ball early in the second half. The errors helped Arkansas turn a 31-14 deficit into a 42-31 lead.
Such a turn of events might have caused other men to crumble. Prescott essentially laughed in the face of potential disappointment and led the Bulldogs back.
Mississippi State scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, going ahead for good on Prescott’s 14-yard scoring pass to Fred Ross with 3:05 remaining.
The 71,936 fans at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback stadium were stunned at the developments orchestrated by Prescott. Ross wasn’t surprised. He’d seen it all before.
“You see it on a week-to-week basis, the things he does and the kind of player that he is,” Ross said. “It’s just Dak being Dak.”
Prescott ended the night accounting for 554 yards of total offense and seven touchdowns. He passed for 508 yards and five scores. He ran for 46 yards and two more scores.
Even by Prescott’s lofty standards, the night was special, but the numbers had little to do with why Mullen put his quarterback on the top shelf of all the great players that he’s coached.
“Honestly, I just think it’s how he controls the game – his ability to lead, his ability to make all the different throws, his ability to manage the team and all the different emotions of the team, to make checks,” Mullen said. “He’s a winner. He wants the ball in his hands to go win the game. I think the whole team knows if you give him the chance he’s going to win the football game.”
De’Runnya Wilson, who has caught more of Prescott’s career touchdown passes than any other receiver, confirmed Mullen’s assessment and said the attitude of No. 15 rubs off on the entire roster.
“That’s our quarterback,” Wilson said. “We already know he’s a great leader and is going to leave it all out on the football field. We just try to feed off of that and do what he does.”
The bittersweet pill MSU is forced to swallow is that Prescott’s Saturday showing was the beginning of the end for the beloved Bulldog. This weekend, Prescott will play in Starkville for the last time when Mississippi State hosts Ole Miss in the Battle for the Golden Egg.
Prescott is already preparing for his Mississippi State swan song.
“I’ll think about it a lot,” Prescott said. “Going into (the Arkansas) game, I thought a lot about it being my last SEC road game and last time I’ll get to play on the road (in the SEC) with these teammates. (The coming) week will be special.”
No Bulldog on the roster is more motivated for the Egg Bowl than Prescott. He could’ve left MSU after last year’s special season that saw MSU rise to No. 1 in the country for five weeks, but losing to Ole Miss at the end left a bad taste in his mouth. When he was deciding whether to depart for the NFL or return to Mississippi State earlier this year, the sting of losing in Oxford was the tipping point.
“It’s the reason I came back,” Prescott said.
Mullen and the Bulldogs will be glad to have their cornerstone at quarterback against the Rebels. They all know, even if things start to fall apart, Prescott will be ready to rally the troops and give MSU the chance to bring the Golden Egg back to Starkville.
That confidence is perhaps Prescott’s patented trait.
On Saturday, after linebacker Beniquez Brown blocked the game-winning field goal attempt of Arkansas kicker Cole Hedlund with 39 seconds left to seal the MSU victory, Prescott sat in the media room and fielded questions from reporters. He was asked what the Bulldogs would have done if Hedlund’s kick had put the Razorbacks on top.
Prescott didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“We would’ve scored,” Prescott said.
From some, such a comment might’ve been taken as fluff or wishful thinking. Out of the mouth of Prescott, no one could argue.
“I always feel comfortable when we have Dak because he’s going to be so calm and saying ‘Just give me the ball and we’re going to make it happen,’” Mullen said.